• U.S.

Cinema: Cherry Bomb

2 minute read
Jay Cocks


Directed by PETER H. HUNT

Screenplay by PETER STONE

The idea was to portray the Second Continental Congress and the beginnings of the American war of independence as occasions for song and dance. Joan Littlewood could have managed it, making a brazenly satiric three-ring vaudeville out of the babble of idealism, pomposity and compromise from which America rather tentatively emerged. Sermons are much closer to the heart of 1776 than satire, however, and the business of turning the founding fathers into a crew of periwigged chorus boys has been accomplished with all due seriousness. Like the hit Broadway show on which it is faithfully based, the movie has a cozy smugness that removes all challenge from the ideas of, say, Adams and Jefferson (Tom Paine is mentioned once—quickly), and it makes an uprising against oppression seem as radical as a meeting of Jaycees.

The shroud of sanctimony is so oppressive that the movie’s random moments of lightheartedness make one almost grovel with relief. The one good musical number portrays the selection of an author for the Declaration of Independence, with each member of the selection committee fobbing off the assignment on another, and all joining in a jaunty chorus that parodies, fleetingly, the idea that any of them should be singing or dancing at all. Sherman Edwards’ songs are usually reserved for important occasions like a speech on the shared immorality of slavery, or the apparently telepathic communications between John Adams and his wife, but they remain bumptiously banal.

In lieu of characterization, Scenarist Stone (Charade, Father Goose) furnishes each prominent member of the congress with a quirk or a foible by which he will be easily recognizable, if not quite human. Thus John Adams (William Daniels) is a prig, Jefferson (Ken Howard) a love-smitten daydreamer, Franklin (Howard Da Silva) a convivial pragmatist, and so on. The actors seize on these poor scraps and work them to death, although they should probably be commended for not breaking into giggles over such Stone dialogue as “Better get yourself down to Congress, Mr. Adams” or “Reconciliation my ass—the people want independence.” •J.C.

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